Angered by what they see as a slide towards authoritarian rule under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, around 10,000 Hungarians have taken to the street in Budapest.
Dubbed ‘Merry Christmas, Mr. Prime Minister’ by its organisers, the demonstration was the fourth mass protest in Hungary in the past week alone. Students, unions and left-wing groups had organised the gathering to advocate for media freedom and an independent judiciary.
Taking place between Heroes’ Square and the parliament buildings in the Hungarian capital Budapest, the protest swelled to thousands of people. They chanted ‘Don’t steal’ and ‘Independent courts’ among other slogans. Many carried Hungarian and EU flags and some held homemade placards; one read: ‘All I want for Christmas is democracy’.
Hundreds of police in riot gear attended the protest. Some of the protestors were momentarily blinded by tear gas fired by police when they congregated outside a television studio.
"We've had enough." Thousands protest new labor laws in Hungary https://t.co/b11FB70SVm
— TIME (@TIME) December 17, 2018
Protests were triggered by Orbán’s government introducing a controversial new overtime law
One particular point of contention is a new labour law which allows employers to ask an employee for up to 400 hours of overtime work per year. It also extends the period for calculating and paying overtime to three years.
Unions have criticised the law as a capitulation to international corporate interests and say it will lead to workers being exploited.
A recent poll found that 93% of the government’s opponents and a whopping 63% of its own supporters opposed the change to the law around overtime.
10,000 pro-democracy, anti-Orban protesters in Hungary brave sub-zero temperatures, tear gas and threats to deliver clear message – “All We Want for Christmas is Democracy” https://t.co/j13b9HCYVt
— Tom Perriello (@tomperriello) December 17, 2018
Critics say Orbán is leading Hungary into authoritarianism, but the opposition parties are powerless to stop him
Orbán’s government also recently legislated to establish new administrative courts which will have jurisdiction over electoral law and corruption and answer to his administration. That move was condemned by civil rights groups as an erosion of the democratic process in Hungary.
Hungary’s opposition parties sounded sirens and sung the national anthem during a chaotic parliamentary session in an ultimately unsuccessful bid to prevent the two contentious bills becoming law.
"The closing of the Central European University in Hungary by the government of Viktor Orban demands a response by the democratic world that makes it clear that Hungary has declared war on freedom" #NYTLetters https://t.co/TQdQplDqTl
— NYT Opinion (@nytopinion) December 7, 2018
Should other nations impose sanctions on Hungary?
Writing in the New York Times, former Diplomat William vandel Heuvel said that the actions of the Orbán government “demands a response by the democratic world that makes it clear that Hungary has declared war on freedom.
“This is an appropriate time to impose sanctions. We must isolate Hungary from participating in NATO and the European Union.” he wrote.
Orbán claimed that the protest was funded by Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros. He has previously accused Soros of masterminding a conspiracy to flood the country with Muslim immigrants.
Soros has been an outspoken critic of Orbán but denies any involvement in the protests.
Orbán has often been at odds with the EU over his policies and has reformed Hungary’s electoral system to entrench his party, Fidesz, into positions of power.